As hundreds of basketball players take to the courts today in downtown Morris' Gus Macker 3-on-3 tournament, some of the players do so with a heavy heart.
These basketball players are missing a teammate — Kyale Brown, who was going to be a senior at Morris Community High School this fall. Brown died May 25 in a car accident on Interstate 57, near Neoga.
"It sucks. It's a bad situation. We're not getting a substitute. We're going to play for him and hopefully we'll win it," said Riley Hextell, a recent graduate who was set to play on a Gus Macker team with Brown today.
"I think he will be a motivator (for the team). We'll be playing with emotion and playing for a reason," he continued.
Brown played in Gus Macker for several years, said his friend Ben Ortiz, senior at Morris High. Ortiz and more of Brown's friends were selling T-shirts at the high school Friday to raise money for the Brown family.
The T-shirts have Brown's picture on them and say "RIP Kyale" on top and "6.6.95 — 5.25.12 Life goes on" on the bottom. Shirts are $12 — $6 for the cost and $6 for the family.
Playing basketball was one of Brown's favorite things to do. He played on the team in high school, along with football and other sports. But more than just being a player himself, Brown would help his teammates become better players.
"He was never very good, and he knew that, but he played hard and always wanted to play," Ortiz said. "I don't play other sports besides basketball, so he would always shoot with me. He was very dedicated."
Brown's friends described him as one of the nicest people in the school who was friends with everyone, no matter what clique they were in at school.
"He was my best friend for the past three years. He was always laughing and (doing) these high-pitched noises he'd make. And he'd bust out dancing," said Brandon Durkin, a senior at Morris.
He would even dance to country music, even though he hated it, added Will Terry, a recent graduate.
"He was so big. He'd throw me around, but even though he was so big, he was such a caring guy," Durkin said.
Terry is playing in today's tournament in memory of his friend. He and his teammates are all wearing special T-shirts they had made as their jerseys. The shirts state "Missed KB Never Forgotten."
Despite the difficulty of dealing with the loss of their friend, Brown's friends said not playing in Gus Macker today was not an option.
"I think of it as what he'd be doing and a way to take our mind off the sadness. This is something he would do," Terry said.
Donations are being accepted for the Brown family in a fund at First Midwest Bank. To see if T-shirts are still available for purchase, call Ben Ortiz at (815) 715-0089.